Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Life online: can you be over-connected?

Offline painting on Bailey Island earlier this autumn.

Although I can be quite social and outgoing, by nature I'm a hermit. When I write fiction, I disconnect from the internet and only answer phone calls from my children. The places where I paint my watercolors often lack cellphone reception, but that is a plus. Solitude allows me to slip into a meditative state of creative concentration. Still, as much as I need isolation to work, I crave social connection too. Face time is best, but the internet is useful for one who lives in a remote location.

Five years of blogging have lead me to new friends, who share my passion for books, nature and art. The view from my small town in Maine has broadened to foreign horizons. I've been introduced to new authors and toured beautiful gardens. A blog post is long enough to delve into a topic in depth and also allows interactive comments. Blogging is not the soapbox I feared it would be but an enlightened conversation. By meeting new people, whose paths wouldn't usually cross ours, we are forced to think outside the box and to consider different perspectives.

For years, blogging and email sufficed to maintain distant connections, but after Sandy struck, I lost contact even without losing power myself. I worried about friends and family in NYC and others in neighboring states. When emails remained unanswered, I joined Facebook and twitter to track down loved ones and blog buddies. Borrowed internet provided time for only a quick tweet or Facebook update, but it was enough to let me know they were okay. Technology is a marvel, a virtual campfire, as others have said. It warms our souls.

In the process of checking in with Sandy victims, I also reconnected with old friends, who had scattered all over the world. Many were now married with adorable children. As much as I dislike the needlessly complicated interface of Facebook and all the advertising, I now understand why people find it so addictive and forgo reading books. Limits will be key.

In some ways, I prefer the simplicity of twitter, but due to the public nature of tweets, it's better suited for work connections like my Linkedin account.

So now this Maine hermit is:

updating on Facebook
and linking on Linkedin.
It's a 5-ring circus if you add
my website as a virtual art gallery.

Some have managed online multiplicity by posting simultaneously to all forums, but I don't think that approach usually works. Disconnect and redundancy happens. It looks unprofessional to whine about your kid's fever to business associates.

I'm concerned by how much personal information is out there for all to read. My guiding principle is to assume the last person I'd want to read my update will share it with a thousand clients. Think before posting.

Question: how do you manage this online cacophony and still find time for life offline?

Scout at Popham Beach last year.
Note: I'll be on blog vacation next week. Happy Thanksgiving! Next post on November 28th.


Rose said...

This is a dilemma we all face these days. I find myself sitting sometimes at the computer and realizing how much time I've wasted. My children always seem to have their eyes on their smartphones, even in a family get-together. Still, there are certain benefits to all this connectivity, as you point out. I don't have a Twitter account, but I do have a Facebook page, and some of the best advice I've heard comes from my son. He said before he posts anything he considers, "What would my boss think and what would my mother think?" A pretty good guideline, I think.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Sarah!

tina said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you too. I often wonder where all the time goes and can hardly believe it is Thanksgiving already! FB is great-I love it. Tweeting, not so much but I am on there too. We have become so accustomed to it we can hardly live without it anymore.

Alyson | New England Living said...

I know what you mean! I tell my 15 year old the time, never say anything on Facebook that you don't want everyone you know to see, because usually it will end up in everyone's feed! And I'm not just talking about status updates, I'm talking about every comment you make to anybody. Everything can and will get out. It's all a very tricky business. We all would do well to hold our tongues, virtually speaking, when upset and think about every word we put out there. Having said that, facebook and all the rest of it are a great connector to those far away, or even nearby.

I hope everyone that you know affected by Sandy is safe and sound! I love that first shot, by the way, of all our painting supplies on the rocks of that island. Looks heavenly!

A Cuban In London said...

I hear you (or read you, rather) and here I am nodding my head in agreement. For a long time I resisted FB and Twitter. But I finally gave in last year and joined both. Like you said, limits is the key word here. Wish you luck with both reconnecting with old friends, making new ones and setting limits to yourself (believe me, it's harder than what you think! :-D)

Greetings from London.

☆sapphire said...


Really beautiful paintings and photos, Sarah!
I feel embarrassed to tell you that I still don't have a Facebook account nor a twitter one. In Japan they are not so common as in your country but have gradually become popular. One of the reasons for not having them is that I don't have enough time for them plus I'm lazy. If you have something important to tell me, please e-mail me.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

walk2write said...

Your paintings and photos are spectacular. That attention to detail is only possible if you immerse yourself in nature, taking the time to notice tiny details and subtle changes in your surroundings. Unfortunately, it's impossible for that kind of immersion to occur while focused on social networking.

I spend most of my time on-line doing research or blogging (posting and commenting). As you said, blogging is great for expanding your horizon, learning new things, and considering other perspectives. I still don't have a personal FB page, but I'm weighing the idea of creating one for business purposes. Twitter is usually quick and painless. I'm still not sure what if any benefit it has, except to maybe draw some new visitors to the blog.

Donna said...

Managing the internet and trying to balance it in my life as a stay-at-home mother of two kids is a constant thing I'm trying to get right.

I've decided that I can manage no more than three online things in my life at this stage: blogging, Facebook, and Pinterest. I'm interested in Instagram and Twitter, but I just don't have the time for them. I feel like I'm already on the computer too much.

So I keep it to those three things, and that's how I try to keep life balanced between the online and the more important offline. Sometimes it feels like it's working beautifully and other times it doesn't feel like that so much! :)

elizabeth said...

Lots of thoughtful comments here.
Blogging has been a wonderful experience for me --well, I met you and Bee for starters! (Saw hwe recently in London).
Another thing I really love is Instagram for very close family and friends --a picture is worth a thousand words and it's so much more vivid than Twitter ( which I'm on but hate). Don't like Facebook much either for the same reasons you mentioned.
Do let me know if you have a spare instant when you are next in NYC.
Warmest wishes.

Amanda Summer said...

this is a subject of great interest to me as well. when facebook was first introduced it was the province only of the young and adults who went on were considered voyeuristic and trying to keep tabs on their kids' activities. of course that has all changed in recent years but i still have not joined. i believe it's for the best, because i feel sufficiently connected with those i want to be connected with and fear that facebook would constitute more of a massive time waster for me than it would an entertainment because of its addictive qualities. i sympathize with your statement about being a hermit and needing isolation to do your creative work, yet still enjoying social interaction. through balance and self awareness, i believe we can have both.

troutbirder said...

An easy question for me. What it comes to modern communications my Luddite tendencies come to the fore. Social media is not for me but enjoying writing and story telling a blog serves that purpose quite well. Actually, I'm finally getting comfortable with the telephone (landline version that is...)

Unknown said...

Hi Sarah!
I actually came across your blog whilst searching for some Elba information! But I actually stayed to look around a bit more ;) In fact, I'm now following you! :D
I'm a British expat living in Italy, and I write a blog too. I'm over at, come and stop by!
Un bacio dall'Italia! Amy :)

Sarah Laurence said...

All, thanks for sharing your experiences with social networking online. Good advice! I also enjoyed your feedback on my art offline. It was fun to connect with some of you on FB and twitter too.

Amy, welcome to my blog! You and all the commenters are perfect examples of the benefit of cyber-connection as we all met through blogging. I’m glad to hear my Elba post was useful. I miss Italy; I’ll come visit your blog soon. Cheers!

cynthia newberry martin said...

At the moment just barely managing real life...mailed off my ms this am so hope to catch up with all my lives in the next few regular days while I get ready for family days. And yes, still thinking of those affected by Sandy. I happened to be on the road as caravans of power trucks headed north in the days before the storm. And did you see the photo going around FB of a NY resident who by an extension cord left multiple outlets on his gate for those who needed to recharge? What a good feeling that we're all in this together.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, congratulations! Fingers crossed. That was a sweet story about Sandy. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I've read all the comments and see that we all need to sort this problem out. As for myself, I still refuse to join Facebook and Twitter although I agree that they can be useful. I simply don't have time for everything and prefer blogging as it is a creative and enriching way of sharing photos and ideas with many interesting people.

To cut a long story short, it's all about the time one is able and willing to invest into these online connections and personal decisions need to be made.

Booksnyc said...

I just followed you on twitter! As you know from my post last week, I found social media to be a lifeline during the recent storm. I try to stay vigilant, however, and keep it in its place. I remind myself that making time for my real life connections is most important!

David Cranmer said...

I have now added Pinterest. And I'm not sure what I'm doing there. But onward we go. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Petra and David, it’s interesting to hear 2 different approaches by dedicated bloggers. My daughter informs me that Instagram is where the teens are now.

Booksnyc, yes, it was your image of the campfire that inspired me.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Good question. The internet alerts me to books I would love to read and then do not get around to reading because I am too busy following links on Facebook....

The situation got even more complicated because I created meaningful relations on a site that is closing its doors. Now my Multiply friends are spread over several blog sites and I have not yet decided how to deal with that...

Sarah Laurence said...

Ien, welcome to my blog! I love how you illustrate the online paradox with books. I'm sorry to hear about Mutiply but perhaps your new blog can become the hub for your old community. Mine is composed of mostly Google Bloggers but there are several who migrated to Wordpress and other platforms. A blogroll keeps us connected. I was delighted to see you comment on one of my older posts too. I shall come visit your blog soon.

prince snow farm said...

I'd be very content just being at home, in the garden, etc...Being a hermit isn't such a bad idea.

Carol said...

Solitude is essential for most artists but the time between filled with good company . . . virtual and real is important. I have been touched by many of your posts Sarah and if this is your anniversary . . . five years of blogging . . . I wish you a Happy one with many more years to come. The world is smaller through blogging and quite wonderful in connecting kindred spirits who would never have met otherwise. It is all about balance I guess . . . and we all have to find our own way of keeping it in all this new world of interacting. Love your painting and the gray shingled house blending perfectly with the craggy rocks. Great to see your palette and your set up there. I hope you had a comfy cushion.

Gloria Baker said...

Love work and garden and baking, and love your puppy is so cute.
And I dont like to be connected all the time! I love make others things but I love my friends in bloggerland!
And my twins (have 18) are connected so much time, but this moth are woeking and are differente!

Anonymous said...

Well, Sarah, I'm coming back after just a few months to confess that though claiming proudly here that I was refusing to join Facebook, I'm already there... I didn't want to stay out of the Vision and Verb group which I'm a member of now so I created my profile on FB too. You never know what the future holds. ;)